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The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

If you have a day in Whitehorse, one of the must do activities is to ride the White Pass Yukon Route Railroad (WP & YR), a narrow gauge railway that runs from Skagway, Alaska to Carcross, Yukon Territory. It’s one of the most scenic train trips I’ve ever done. 

The WP & YR was built in 1898 in just 26 months during the Klondike Gold Rush. The railway, an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, shares that title with notable sights like the Eiffel Tower and the Panama Canal. Its initial purpose was to open up a transportation network in the north – which it did for many decades. But in 1982 when the mining industry collapsed, so did the railway.

The White Pass Yukon Rout Railroad reopened in 1988 as a seasonal tourism venture and its growth has been staggering – from 37,000 visitors in its inaugural season to 400,000 passengers in 2015, thanks in large part to shore excursions for cruise ships that stop in Skagway.

How can you experience the White Pass Yukon Railroad?

The present railway operates on 67.5 miles of the original 110 mile line. While most people pick it up in Skagway there are a number of ways to experience the White Pass Yukon Route Railroad. I hopped on in Fraser, BC – as I hadn’t expected to ride the railroad and so didn’t bring my passport. I rode it to Carcross while another couple who hopped on when I did, rode it to Bennett, hopped off to explore Bennett for over an hour and returned to Fraser.

Then there are those that have just finished backpacking the Chilkoot Trail. They can get on at Bennett Lake and get off at either Skagway or Carcross depending on how they are going home. All people can get off at Bennett Lake but depending on what direction you’re traveling you may have anywhere from about 45 minutes to a few hours. There is enough time to hike a small section of the Chilkoot Trail.

I know I missed some exceptionally scenic sections out of Skagway, including one piece where the railway climbs 3,000 feet in 20 miles at a grade of 3.9%. I also missed the “cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees” (my lunch time neighbour on the train said she had to close her eyes in this part), two tunnels and many of the bridges and trestles. But as you’ll see in the photos below, I wasn’t shortchanged by doing only a part of the route.

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Waiting for the train in Fraser, BC

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

All aboard

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Awesome views right off the bat

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Hours of beautiful scenes like this on the train trip

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Most passengers are from the cruise ship; you can stand outside between the rail cars

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Sections of the trip parallel the highway though you feel far removed from civilization

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Log Cabin used to be one of the exits off the Chilkoot Trail

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Heading towards Bennett Lake

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Coming into Bennett Lake

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

You can get off the train in Bennett Lake and even hike a short section of the Chilkoot Trail

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Check out what is the end of the Chilkoot Trail for those hikers who started near Skagway, Alaska

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Distances may not be long but most people need 4-5 days to backpack the Chilkoot Trail

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is made of wood and was built between 1899 – 1901

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

This couple from Texas loved the train and the views; they declared it the best side trip on the cruise

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

After surviving Chilkoot Pass you’d have to boat the length of Bennett Lake which is far longer than what you see here

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

The views and reflections are awesome up and down Bennett Lake

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

More outstanding scenery

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

You’re into the Yukon and out of BC when you pass this island

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

People from all over the world are in awe of the beauty

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

You can stand outside at the back of the trail and watch the world go by

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

The backpackers who have just finished the Chilkoot Trail get their own car for their gear

Carcross – The End Point for the White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Train 

Carcross, with a population of around 300 people (based on a 2011 census) has changed dramatically since I last visited. It’s added a town square with a large number of cute pop-up type stores along the lines of shipping containers – but with  way more character. You’ll find excellent ice cream, coffee and food including maple goodies like Yukon Whiskey Maple Butter from The Maple Rush. Parks Canada now has a space filled with lots of interesting historical photographs and if you time it right you can enjoy live music along with your ice cream cone.

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Welcome to Carcross

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Matthew Watson General Store is the oldest operating store in the Yukon and one of the spots people make a beeline for in Carcross

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

There’s a plaza in Carcross with lots of great pop-up kind of stores and live entertainment; you might have time to enjoy before your next stop

There are loads of combinations and permutations of this trip so check out the White Pass & Yukon Route website  to find one that works for you. There are two things you should pay attention to when you’re planning your trip; what day the train runs because it’s not daily and if you’re coming from the Yukon you have to remember that the schedule is on Alaska time with a one hour time difference.

The White Pass Yukon Route Railroad Experience

Thank you to Travel Yukon for kindly organizing this awesome trip.

 

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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